Teachers, Scientists and The Dalai Lama Hold a Different Kind of Education Conference
An education conference began in the nation’s capital today, but it was not about standardized tests, national content standards, merit pay for teachers or charter schools.
Educators, scientists, the Dalai Lama and others came together to discuss how to cultivate in students some qualities not normally given much attention in most schools: social responsibility, self-control, compassion.
The conversation, which included educator Linda Darling-Hammond and child advocate Marian Wright Edelman, focused on how to teach young people to be responsible to other individuals and to society as adults--a topic you might think should be common in the world of education but sadly is all too rare.
“Cultivating compassion is not something this country thinks about doing,” said psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of the book “Emotional Intelligence, and the moderator of today’s first session.
At a time when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is handing out billions of dollars in federal funds to help education reform efforts, it is fair to wonder whether any of the money will go toward things more basic than reading and writing: whether kids can see the blackboard, eat regularly and be secure that they will not be bullied or harmed on the way to school. Or inside it.
Education reform that misses these essentials cannot work--but policymakers and even school administrators seem to ignore that.
“I don’t understand how the idea that learning reliable ways both traditional and untraditional for cultivating positive qualities of heart and mind is somehow controversial,” said Willoughby Britton, a researcher at Brown University’s Contemplative Studies Initiative, who is attending the conference. “...It seems so obvious, but why is it such a hard sell?”
Lest you think this is some out-of-the mainstream event, look at some of the co-sponsors: The schools of education at Harvard University, Stanford University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. George Washington University’s College of Arts and Sciences is on the list, too, as is the American Psychological Association.
The opening session brought together the Dalai Lama with some well-known child advocates.
They included Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford who launched the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute and the School Redesign Network, and was asked by President Obama to lead the search for his secretary of education.
Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, and Jacquelynne S. Eccles, a professor of psychology and education at the University of Michigan, were on stage too, as was Matthieu Ricard, a cellular biologist who became a Buddhist monk.
Duncan was scheduled to appear on a panel with the Dalai Lama at a session today on attention, how to regulate emotions and learning, but withdrew for family reasons.
Duncan has repeatedly discussed his interest in the connection between mind and body--though his administration has disappointed educators interested in approaches to teaching the whole child. Many see his efforts as little more than a continuation of the Bush administration’s emphasis on high stakes standardized testing.
That was not on today’s agenda Empowering children was.
“Teaching compassion is not just a word,” The Dalai Lama said. “It is through your actions that you develop compassion.”
Eccles discussed a research project that took some 7th-graders who were behind in school and on the road to dropping out, and gave them the job of tutoring first-graders.
“An unbelievable thing happened,” she said. “The entire group went through high school.”
How did it happen? The students sharpened their own reading skills in order to teach the first-graders, and in the process developed enough self-confidence to realize that they could be successful at school.
Darling-Hammond, asked to discuss concrete ways of teaching compassion, related something that teachers trained at Stanford are always taught: How to start each relationship with a student by finding something positive to say and reach out to the family in the same way. Developing schools that give teachers the time and freedom to do this is essential, she said.
Those wondering what the Dalai Lama has to do with all of this should know that he has been involved in education efforts for decades. He is a co-founder of the Mind and Life Institute, which brings together science with traditional Buddhist theories and practices on the nature of the mind.
And no, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to learn something here. It’s not about religion.
“If you are not holy and you are happy, good!” The Dalai Lama said. The crowd laughed.
| October 8, 2009; 2:51 PM ET
Categories: Civics Education, Intelligence, National Standards, Teachers | Tags: Arne Duncan, Linda Darling-Hammond, Marian Wright Edelman, The Dalai Lama, school reform
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